“Woman must have her freedom, the fundamental freedom of choosing whether or not she will be a mother and how many children she will have. Regardless of what man’s attitude may be, that problem is hers — and before it can be his, it is hers alone. She goes through the vale of death alone, each time a babe is born. As it is the right neither of man nor the state to coerce her into this ordeal, so it is her right to decide whether she will endure it.”
-Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood
I am tired of women having rights taken from them and silenced just so men can enforce power and control. I am tired of sex being taboo, for shaming women for doing and being who they want. I am tired of the double standard. I am tired of women not having accurate information about their bodies. I am tired of victim blaming. I am tired of being quiet and polite. I am tired of sitting on the sideline and watching it happen. I am tired of men controlling our bodies. Our status. Our minds. I am tired of being underestimated. Shamed. Overlooked. Repressed. I need to stand up against all of it. We need to stand up against all of it. I will. We will.
In 1916, Margaret Sanger started the first birth control clinic based on her belief that “liberating women from the risk of unwanted pregnancy would effect fundamental social change” (Jon Knowles). Though the clinic was not open for long and she was imprisoned for her participation, she continued her work and set precedent for generations to come. In 1921, she founded the American Birth Control League. She also opened the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau staffed with all female physicians (Esther Katz). Finally, in 1938, a judge lifted the federal ban on birth control, ending the Comstock era. Which allowed her to legally distribute information but she still faced with disapproval from society.
In 1950, Sanger collected the research for the first birth control pill and she raised $150,000 to fund the project (Kirsten Thompson). Then, in 1960, the first birth control pill went on the market. In 1965, the court case Griswold v. Connecticut gave married women the right to take it. After Eisenstadt v. Baird in 1972, unmarried women were given access to the pill (ACLU). Low dose pills and the copper IUD were introduced in the 80’s.
Since then, many new methods and improvements to old methods have been introduced. Birth control pills and the IUD are now more effective and safe. The Nuvaring, implant, injectable shot and female condoms are all now on the market. Not all women who use birth control use it to prevent pregnancy and in fact, “fifty percent of women who use birth control say they take it for non-contraceptive health reasons” (The Cost of Birth Control: By the Numbers). Even though there are many more methods available, some problems remain. Women still have to deal with the high cost and health side effects that come with all of these methods. One of the most recent big milestones is getting emergency contraceptives without a prescription. As of 2013, Plan B One-Step is being sold in drug stores with no age limits or doctor’s approval necessary (Kirsten Thompson). Unfortunately, about 40 percent of retail pharmacies don’t stock emergency contraception on their shelves, according to the American Society for Emergency Contraception.
Birth control is important to a women’s health, education, and career. Since 1965, when the U.S. Supreme Court first “protected a woman’s access to contraception in Griswold v. Connecticut, both maternal and infant mortality rates have declined” (ACLU). Without birth control of some form, women “would bear twelve to fifteen children in her lifetime”(ACLU). This is critical because “pregnancies that occur too early or too late in a woman’s life, or that are spaced too closely, negatively affect maternal health and increase the risk of prematurity and low birth weight” (Guttmacher Institute). The average desired family size is two children, “to achieve this family size, a woman must use contraceptives for roughly three decades” (Guttmacher Institute). When asked how birth control impacts their lives, “women report that it has allowed them “to support [themselves] financially,” “to stay in school,” and “to get or keep [a] job or have a career”. It has been shown that “availability of oral contraception has played a significant role in allowing women to attend college and choose post-graduate paths, including law, medicine, and business administration” (ACLU). “The percentage of all lawyers and judges who are women more than doubled in the 1970s (from 5.1 percent in 1970 to 13.6 percent in 1980) and was 29.7 percent in 2000” (The Power of the Pill). Similar patterns were shown in doctors, vets, engineers, dentists, and architects. One study shows that the birth control pill led to “roughly one-third of the total wage gains for women in their forties” (ACLU). The pill allows women to strive for whatever career they want.
Obviously, these are very complicated problems to solve. I wish I could say I have all the answers but I don’t. These aren’t singular issues, they all stem from something else. Unintended pregnancy stems from incorrect sexual education in schools and so on. However, I have some ideas that would improvements even if they are small. The first step would be creating more conversation. By having a conversation about safe sex and contraception, it minimizes the stigma. Not only that, but it teaches everyone about different types of contraception and how to access them so people can be safer. Low-cost methods, such as condoms, should be available to everyone. Some colleges like Stanford and UC Davis, have installed “vending machines” on their campus’ which holds condoms (male and female), emergency contraception and Advil. These machines are open to all, 24/7 instead of the health center which is only open during the work week. Many colleges have started to get on board with this trend because students can get it on the weekends and because the emergency contraception is cheaper than getting it at a pharmacy (if they carry it). Some other ways to make it available to more people would be to carry it in grocery stores and urgent care offices, both of which are easily accessible. By lowering the price, it would make birth control and emergency contraception accessible to women of lower socioeconomic status. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done. The only ways to do it would be to require employers to pay for birth control as part of health insurance like the Obama Administration tried to do. Or, to make birth control over the counter and in pharmacies just like emergency contraception. There are some companies that send birth control through the mail, such as The Pill Club but these still require a prescription. Hopefully, scientists will keep coming up with new birth control methods that are cheaper and more effective. Some of my other ideas include legislation to ban abstinence-only sexual education in schools and require a new, comprehensive program nationwide which would include consent, contraceptive methods, and many other lessons.
Call to Action:
Donate or volunteer at your local Planned Parenthood here
Call your lawmakers here and tell them why reproductive rights matter to you
You can also create a fundraiser or club in order to spread awareness and raise money!
As of today, there are still barriers that prevent women from accessing, using and buying the reliable contraceptive method they choose but we have made substantial progress in the 100 plus years since the first birth control clinic opened. To leave you inspired for change here is a poem.
Dear Women Around the World,
There are times when no one will believe in you,
Times when your strength is tested more than your knowledge,
Strength that lies in your mind, and not your muscles.
You will feel discouraged not by the aching in your body,
But by the weighed down sensation of your spirit by those who doubt your fire.
Survivors is what we will be called when faced with injustice,
Warriors is what the world will deem us,
As we band together to say #MeToo and Time’s Up.
You are one in a million, and one of millions who will fight for equality and justice,
At home, at work, in the streets, and in the classroom,
You will be joined by women like me, who will never give up.
That is my promise.
If you have any feedback or solution ideas feel free to put them here. Just double click anywhere to add.
“Contraceptive Method Use in the United States: Trends and Characteristics between 2008, 2012
and 2014.” Guttmacher Institute, 9 Jan. 2018,
“Contraceptive Use in the United States.” Guttmacher Institute, 21 Sept. 2017,
Goldin, Claudia and Lawrence F. Katz. 2002. “The power of the pill: Oral contraceptives and
women’s career and marriage decisions.” Journal of Political Economy 110(4): 730-770.
Katz, Esther. “Sanger, Margaret Birth Control Advocate.” American National Biography
Knowles, Jon. “Margaret Sanger—20th Century Hero.”
Krieger, Lisa M. “What’s New in Stanford Vending Machine? Emergency Contraception.” The Mercury
News, The Mercury News, 9 Oct. 2017,
Lubet, Sarah Lipton. “ Promoting Equality: An Analysis of the Federal Contraceptive Coverage
“The Cost of Birth Control: By the Numbers.” The Week – All You Need to Know about
Everything That Matters, 12 Mar. 2012, theweek.com/articles/477392/cost-birth-control-by-numbers.
Thompson, Kirsten. “A Brief History of Birth Control in the U.S.” Our Bodies Ourselves, 13
“Timeline of Major Supreme Court Decisions on Women’s Rights.” American Civil Liberties
“UNLOCKED – Joss Whedon Video.” YouTube, 17 May 2017, youtu.be/3vTG4lUl1PU.